Office of Diversity Brings People Together to Discuss Hispanic Heritage


More than 115 people gathered at Pacific University on Sept. 22 for "Hispanic Heritage and Activism in Oregon," a day-long workshop aimed at fostering a meaningful discussion of Latino immigration to the United States and related issues.

The forum brought Latinos and non-Latinos together to discuss the Hispanic community's heritage in America, and its contributions to and struggles within the nation.

It was presented by Centro Cultural and Pacific's Office of Diversity, and funded by Oregon Humanities with additional support from Portland Community College, Washington County Museum and Oregon Child Development Coalition.

Attendance featured an even mix of Latinos and non-Latinos who learned about, or in some cases, revisited exploitation of native Mexican workers via the Braceros program.

The day began with a screening of the documentary "Harvest of Loneliness," which chronicled the controversial Braceros work-visa program forged by the American and Mexican governments during World War II.

The film documented hazardous working conditions, excessive working hours, substandard housing accommodations and underpayment of compensation to Braceros working the in the agriculture industry.

Thousands of Braceros' deaths were traced to poor administration of the work visa program, with both governments complicit in allowing rampant non-compliance of regulations. Part or all of posthumous compensation due to the families of Braceros killed while on their work assignments often went "missing."

Following the documentary, attendees dispersed into discussion groups on the history of Latinos in Washington County and throughout the country.  A number of Pacific University faculty, including Alyson Burns-Glover (psychology), Mike Charles (education) and Nancy Christoph (Spanish) helped lead or facilitate breakout sessions.

Topics included social justice to inequality in the number of educational opportunities, and subsequently, employment limitations. Other University faculty and staff, including College of Arts & Sciences dean Lisa Carstens, joined the discussions.

Following the morning sessions, keynote speaker Jerry Garcia focused the group on the showcased his current research on the railroad industry's use of the Braceros program.

Garcia, director of the Chicano Program and the College Assistance Migrant Program at Eastern Washington University, note several hundred deaths resulting from the program over a two-year period during World War II.

Deaths that often could have been prevented, he noted, included one case where a train killed eight Braceros because the supervisors couldn't communicate in Spanish.

Garcia's talk and slide show set the stage for an afternoon of breakout sessions that focused on the current state of Hispanics in America and Washington County, in particular.

Attendees talked about the need for both Latino adults and children to have access to education and training that will results in higher skill sets.

Multiple attendees advocated partnerships with community colleges and universities and the need for mentoring within the Latino community.

Alliance building with state legislators on immigration reform also resonated with the group.

Garcia reminded all in attendance that "a person's economic status does not equate to his or her value." He encouraged Latinos to learn how to negotiate with their employers over wages and benefits.

Jose Rivera, executive director of Centro Cultural, thanked the attendees for sharing their personal experiences and challenges, and invited all to the organization's annual gala celebration on Saturday, Nov. 3 at the Embassy Suites hotel in Tigard.

Proceeds allow Centro Cultural to continue to provide support and resources to the Latino community throughout Washington County.

For more information, please call 503-359-0446. 

Monday, Oct. 15, 2012